What a Pain! What You Need to Know About Common Headache Triggers
Migraines, tension headaches, sinus pressure, arthritic pain, jaw pain…no matter what you call that pounding, aching, awful discomfort, it comes from somewhere. Inner or outer triggers can cause the body to react with pain that’s felt in the head. These triggers may stem from foods, chemicals, stress, environment, hormones, among other things, and can be completely different from one person to the next.
If you find that your headaches start after eating, they may be triggered by food. Certain foods like alcohol, chocolate and caffeine have been identified as common migraine triggers. There are several suspect foods that trigger headaches in many people, but many different foods can trigger headaches for certain individuals. That’s why following a migraine diet or keeping a food diary to record head pain is a good practice.
The National Headache Foundation lists these foods as possible triggers for migraines and headaches that should be avoided, however, there may be more to the story. Check the list and read on for more information about the foods you love that may appear as suspects.
Research presented at the International Headache Society suggests that cocoa may actually protect the nerve cells that cause migraine headaches. However, 22% of headache sufferers identify chocolate on the list of foods that trigger migraines or headaches. Chocolate may just be getting a bad rap. Many people with migraines have increased appetite and food cravings just before their headaches start. Reaching for a chocolate bar may be the result of a migraine, rather than the cause.
Sulfites, used as preservatives in red wine, are included in the list of foods that trigger migraines. Alcohol in any drink causes increased blood flow to your brain and can also result in dehydration, both of which might be headache triggers. What remains inconclusive is that whether it is the alcohol itself or the sulfites that prompt a headache regardless of quantity consumed.
Have you ever suffered from a caffeine withdrawal headache? Well, a little caffeine can actually help get rid of a migraine headache, and caffeine is even included in some migraine medicines. However, too much caffeine can be a headache trigger when you come down from your caffeine “high.” Research shows that you need to be drinking about 200 mg of caffeine (about 2-3 cups of coffee) to get a withdrawal headache when you miss that first cup.
Though there is not much research on cheese as a migraine trigger, it is generally agreed that aged cheese is more likely to cause a headache. The culprit may be a substance called tyramine that forms as the proteins in cheese break down over time. The longer a cheese ages, the more tyramine it has. Types of cheese you might want to skip on a migraine diet include blue cheese, Swiss, cheddar, Gouda, and Parmesan.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is found in soy sauce and as an additive in many other foods, has been found to cause cramps, diarrhea and headache in 10 – 15% of people who get migraine headaches. Soy sauce as a migraine trigger is probably due to MSG, but soy sauce is also very salty, which can lead to dehydration, which is a known headache trigger.
Migraine or tension headache, known trigger or suspect scenario…everyone is different. The only way to know exactly how certain foods affect you is to keep a food diary and try a migraine diet. In many cases, hydration and healthy eating will keep pain at bay and reduce the frequency of those horrible headaches.